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Thursday, 28 May 2015

Ori and the Blind Forest.


Ori and the Blind Forest.



(Contains spoilers.)

Hello, do you like ugly crying? Then gosh, do I have the game for you!

Ori and the Blind Forest, an indie platformer by Moon Studios, follows Ori, a young forest spirit whose life is thrown upside down when the forest it inhabits is hit by a destructive cataclysm, killing its adopted parent in the process. Approached by another forest being, Sein, Ori sets out to restore the elements of Water, Wind, and Warmth - a task that will bring it into conflict with the mischievous spider-like Gumo and giant, hostile owl Kuro, who caused the cataclysm.

The thing that everyone mentions first about this game - and I am no different - is that it's very pretty. Featuring hand-drawn artwork, the entire game has a painterly aesthetic, with sharp and bold colours used to define vastly different sections of the forest, giving each area a unique personality and charm. Characters are rendered simply (Sein most of all, being just a dot of light) but effectively, and the developers cleverly made Ori stand out by having it glow brightly, contrasting with whatever landscape happens to be around it.

Pretty.

The orchestral soundtrack is all excellent, reminding me oddly of Prince of Persia 2009's soundtrack - a lot of the same instruments, one supposes. While all of the soundtrack is stunning, the three or four variations on the main theme, such as Restoring the Light Facing the Dark and Sacrifice, take the prize home for being some of the best tracks on the OST, something helped by the fact that they tend to start playing during the more dramatic and impactful story beats.

The voice acting is also pretty good, although the characters only speak in Okami-esque noises.)

The gameplay has been described as 'Metroidvania-esque', but as I've never played Metroids or Castlevania, I honestly couldn't tell you. It's a 2D open world platformer, with a short main story and a lot of hidden secrets to find around the map. There's a combat system in the form of Ori firing flurries of blue flame to defeat enemies, and you can use various upgrade points to beef up your abilities in RPG-oid style. The game keeps gameplay fresh by frequently giving you new abilities that must be used to access new places, such as catapulting yourself off enemy projectiles or gliding with a leaf - each of the three dungeons comes with a new gameplay mechanic, and there are more than a couple littered between the dungeons as well, meaning that the gameplay is constantly evolving. 

It was actually really difficult picking pictures for this review.

It's not easy gameplay - in fact, 'frustratingly difficult' is the phrase I most often hear associated with it - but it does reward persistence, and the gameplay never becomes so difficult that it can't be completed with some strategic thinking. When people claim that old games were 'difficult but never unfair' they are without exception lying through their teeth, but Ori and the Blind Forest really is difficult without being unfair.

Mitigating that frustration too is that you can create save points on any stable ground, meaning that you can choose to drop your save point down right next to a puzzle that's giving you trouble, and avoid having to do a chunk of game you can do over and over again. The only exceptions are the escape sections, functionally the boss battles of the game, where you flee a temple as its element is explosively and dramatically restored. 

Gah, Kuro.

Which leaves us with the story to talk about. I mentioned earlier that there's a lot of ugly crying involved when playing Ori and the Blind Forest, and that's true: It's a very simple, straightforward story, but there's a lot of emotional weight and impact to it, from the start to the end, and the game plays with themes of childhood and parenthood often. It does cop out a little at one point, having Ori's adopted mother returned to life, but it plays the tragedy straight at other times - Gumo's people aren't ever coming back, and nor is Kuro or most of her children. While heavy-handed at times, the game does a good job of making you feel sympathetic for all of the characters involved, and the ending is bittersweet, both on a personal level and on the macro level of the forest likely never being the same again.

Nice.

All in all, a very good game, and one of the great gems to come out of the growing indie developer scene. I would highly recommend Ori and the Blind Forest to - well, anyone, but especially anyone who enjoys platformers, especially as it will almost certainly be on sale at some point during the Steam Summer Sale. No word of a sequel (not that it needs one) or any other game from Moon Studios, but I do hope that they keep making games. It would make sense for them to do so - capitalising on their success and suchlike.

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